Here are what I will be watching for when the Aggies host Prairie View A&M....
1) The ground game: NMSU will look to run the ball better this week and control the line of scrimmage.
The team would like to see their yards-per-carry average higher than the 3.2 number it mustered against Idaho last week. Marquell Colston and Tonny Glynn will see action again, as well as Seth Smith, who’s role is sure to increase out of the Aggie backfield.
In turn, stopping Prairie View on the ground will be a top priority. While NMSU ran the ball 33 times last weekend, the Panthers also took to the ground often, recording 39 rushing attempts for 126 yards, for a paltry 2.2-yards-per-carry average.
2) The kicking game: NMSU tinkered with their field goal kicker this week, replacing Jordan Davenport with Kyle Hughes.
Hughes will do it all tonight for the Aggies’ special teams units, handling kickoffs, punts and field goals. Last year, Hughes was the Aggies primary place kicker, booting through all 33 of his extra point attempts and connecting on 7-of-11 field goal tries.
In a game that could be nip-and-tuck, Hughes might be the difference between an Aggie win, or loss.
3) NMSU pass defense: The Aggie cornerbacks are often left on an island, forced to defend receivers one-on-one in the secondary.
Prairie View struggled last week throwing the football, as quarterback Jay Bluford went 10-of-18 for just 91 yards. The QB did connect on two touchdown tosses, however, and will look to take advantage again this week.
The key could be the Aggie pass rush. The team would like to generate pressure in the backfield and dictate when Bluford throws the ball, not the other way around. If the team rattles Bluford, turnovers should follow suit.
4) Confidence factor: The mental edge in this game will play just as big a factor as anything else.
For the Aggies, every contest is important, whether it be against Boise State or a team that competes in the FBC. Coming off a loss last week against Idaho, NMSU would benefit from a fast start in tonight’s contest. Letting Prairie View stick around could lead to problems.
As for the Panthers, the team will be fired up for this game — a Division-I opponent in enemy territory. They will come out ready to play. If NMSU can take air out of the Prairie View balloon early, it will pay dividends later in the contest.